Gay Talese has a lady problem -- he can’t think of any female writers that inspired him

Writer Gay Talese.

Writer Gay Talese.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Gay Talese, the famed journalist and author of books such as “Honor Thy Father” and “Unto the Sons,” told an audience at a Boston University conference that he couldn’t name a single female journalist who inspired him, the Boston Globe reports.

During a question-and-answer session at the “Power of Narrative Writing” conference, an audience member asked Talese which female journalists inspired his writing. Talese mentioned authors Nora Ephron and Mary McCarthy, then, after a silence, replied, “None.”

Talese then explained that the problem with female journalists was they were limited by their desire to stay above the fray, according to an audience member who spoke to the Washington Post. Amy Littlefield, 29, said that Talese explained “how educated women don’t want to hang out with antisocial people.”


His answer seemed to shock the audience, with one person shouting out the name of Joan Didion, the legendary journalist and author of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and “The White Album.”

It could be argued that Talese and Didion were contemporaries. They both appeared in the seminal 1973 anthology “The New Journalism,” edited by Tom Wolfe.

Talese, 84, is widely considered one of the best journalists of his generation. He started his career in the 1950s as a sportswriter for the New York Times, and eventually left the newspaper to write for Esquire magazine.

Esquire published his two best-known articles, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” and “The Silent Season of a Hero,” which was a profile of New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio. He is married to Nan A. Talese, the publisher of the Doubleday imprint that bears her name.

His latest article, “The Voyeur’s Motel,” appears in the April 11 issue of the New Yorker. The piece is about a male Colorado hotelier who cut holes in the ceilings of motel rooms to spy on his guests -- for decades. The timing seems remarkably bad, considering charges of sexism after his remarks in Boston.

Talese’s remarks at the conference inspired a Twitter hashtag, #womengaytaleseshouldread, with users suggesting writers like Janet Malcolm, Susan Sontag, Lindy West and Susan Orlean, among others.

The website Bustle ran a response titled “5 Kickass Female Journalists Gay Talese Should Read Up On, Pronto,” which included suggestions like Gloria Steinem, Frances FitzGerald and Betty Friedan.

On Sunday, Talese told the Associated Press that he had misunderstood the question, and thought he was being asked which female journalists influenced him when he was young. He said he was unable to think of any women reporters he read when he was a teenager.